The Specific Article Of Clothing Tourists Should Avoid Wearing When Visiting China

It might seem like an oddly specific piece of advice, but you should never wear a green hat when you visit China. While in many countries a neon green baseball cap keeping the sun off of your face or a wooly olive beanie keeping your ears warm would barely be noticed, in China, you'll probably catch people laughing at you on the street. The reason? It means you're being cheated on.


One of the great joys of traveling is embracing culture shock and diving headfirst into being in a new place, but sometimes you might accidentally commit some social faux pas, like joining the clean plate club on a trip to China, while you're figuring things out. As unusual as it might seem, few mistakes are more embarrassing (or more hilarious for the people around you) than picking the wrong hat color. The idiom "lü mào zi" literally means to wear a green hat, but it's used to call someone a cuckold or imply that their partner is going behind their back and having an affair with someone else. 

Because of this commonly used slang, it's essentially taboo to wear a green hat in China. While this phrase is traditionally used for men with cheating wives today, it's applied to anyone, so you probably should pick a different color hat before a night out in Yangshuo, regardless of your gender.


The origins of the green hat taboo are uncertain

Idioms, or seemingly nonsensical phrases that have specific meanings to those familiar with them, appear in languages all over the world. In Russian, people might tell someone not to hang noodles on their ears if they suspect they're being lied to. In French, you might flippantly tell someone that you have other cats to whip if you're too busy to do them a favor. Exactly where these phrases come from, and saying someone is wearing a green hat to say they're being cheated on is no exception. There are a few popular explanations, but whether or not any of them actually point to the origins of this phrase or are just stories that appeared after the fact is unclear.


As far back as the Ming Dynasty, green hats have had this unfortunate association, and references to it can be found in fiction that is hundreds of years old. Some believe that this comes from an old folk tale where a man accidentally puts on her wife's lover's green hat that was accidentally left behind after a tryst instead of his own. In another version, a cheating wife encourages her husband to wear a green hat when he's going out for a long time as a signal to her boyfriend that she'll be home alone if he wants to visit. Others believe that at one time green hats were associated with sex work.

How big a deal is it if you make this mistake in China?


My dry cleaner lady looked at me like i had a spider on my head 🕷️🧢 idk i think it looks cute 🙈

♬ original sound – joyyyceee

You'll probably just get some odd looks and a cup of milk if you try to order a latte in Italy but might be considered rude for tipping in Japan and end up being chased down the street by an apologetic waiter trying to give your change back — but what happens if you accidentally wear a green hat while visiting China? You're not going to get in any trouble, but people will almost certainly laugh at you. Green hats are either seen as embarrassing or as a funny dirty joke, especially by schoolchildren, so if you wear one in public, you'll definitely hear some snickering.


On her blog Stephwaxpoetic, one former teacher in China stated that photos of people in green hats for St. Patrick's Day had elicited gasps and screams from her students. In a focus group conducted as a part of Mantua-Kommonen Kirsi's dissertation of cultural color meanings in business dealings between China and Finland found that adults were reluctant to even explain why they didn't want to discuss the meaning of green hats. In fact, it's so embarrassing to be seen in a green hat that people preferred to pay fines for jaywalking rather than wear green hats given to them by Shenzhen police officers in 2015.